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Tilefish-good eats from the bottom

December 01, 2021

Tilefish-good eats from the bottom

There are 40 species of tilefish, with golden and blueline tilefish being the most popular. The tremendous northern tilefish (Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps), or golden tile, is the largest species in the family Malacanthidae (tilefishes), growing to over fifty pounds.  

Tilefish Diet:

Tilefish feed on crabs, lobster, and other shellfish that live on ocean bottoms. What makes them so desirable is the taste of their meat. This taste comes from their diet.

Tilefish has a mild flavor but is distinctive, often compared to lobster or crab, which is not surprising since the tilefish’s diet is largely crustaceans. The fillets you get off tiles are thick, cooking up white with a firm, flaky texture.  

Range :

Tilefish are found in the eastern Atlantic Ocean from the upper Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico to as far north as Nova Scotia and in the Indian Ocean.

Tiles inhabit a narrow stretch of the ocean floor in a band of warm water along the upper reaches of the continental slope. The significant fishing grounds are off eastern Florida, southern New Jersey, and Long Island, N.Y


Found along the outer continental shelves, shelf breaks, and upper slopes, tilefish make their homes in the soft bottom, where they are known to dig and occupy burrow colonies along the outer continental shelf and on the flanks of submarine canyons in malleable clay substrate.

Golden tilefish live at the bottom of the ocean in 600 to 1,000 feet of water or more. Blueline tilefish live in shallower water, usually between 200 and 400 feet, frequently found in the same habitat as groupers, snappers, and black sea bass.

The stable water temperature at those depths and the safety of bottom burrows translate into tilefish not migrating or moving around much. This allows anglers to target them at virtually any time of year without wondering if they’ll be around.

This consistent habitat also means that when you find one tilefish, you’re likely to find more. So the moment you get a fish on the line, make the spot on your bottom machine and keep track of your location with each bite. 

Fishing for Tilefish:

To find fish, focus on areas where you know live or rocky bottom in the proper depth range. Drop your baits to the bottom and start your drift once you are in the ideal water depth for either golden tilefish or blueline tilefish. You’ll encounter stretches of lifeless bottom and areas of suitable concentrations of fish, so keep track of your GPS and mark the bites as you go. 

A few long drifts will allow you to nail down some productive spots. After tile fishing a few times in various areas, you’ll build a set of waypoints that will enable you to get on fish more quickly.

To learn the finer points of deep dropping for tilefish, visit In The Spread and watch their bottom Fishing for Tilefish video. This will show you precisely what you need to be focused on to start catching fish. Fishing for tilefish is not complicated. You just need to know some basic techniques and then get out and start dropping. You can learn more about bottom fishing and deep dropping by watching fishing videos on In The Spread

Deep Dropping for Tilefish: 

Since tilefish live on the bottom, you have to get your baits down and keep them there. While this is not super difficult, it does require some skill when dealing with depth and current. How much current you have and how deep you are fishing determines how much lead you need to get your baits down without too much line going off your reel. 

One critical element of tile fishing is bouncing your lead on the bottom as you drift. This seems to turn on the bite. Tilefish are drawn out of their burrows by scent and vibration. Living in total darkness down deep means you have to appeal to the tilefish’s sense of smell and sound lures. Since the fish prefer soft sand and mud bottom, there’s little chance to get snagged, so drop your lead to the bottom and continue to do it as you cover the ground.

Once you find an area where you are getting bites, be sure to run back down the current and drift those spots again. Make several drifts over productive grounds. Since tilefish live in colonies, you will get multiple bites in the same area, and the bite will heat up as you excite the fish with all the commotion you create by dropping heavy leads on their doorstep. 

What type of fishing tackle, baits, lures, and rigs do you need to bottom fish effectively? Here is a brief list of fishing tackle. This is not a comprehensive list but rather a starting place. Remember a good knife, a gaff or two, a net, 5-gallon bucket, extra deep drop rigs 


  • Lead – How much you have to use to reach and hold the bottom depends on how much current you are dealing with 16-32 oz. or more is not uncommon. 
  • Rods - The rod should be in the neighborhood of 7 feet. This helps get out over the side of the boat. A fast to extra-fast action rod that has a little more beef helps handle large sinkers. 
  • Reels – Electric (tan com, Kristal, LP) are the norm in bottom fishing or conventional high retrieve reels. You want something to help get your gear up from the depths quickly. 
  • Line - 50 lb braid for your mainline is highly recommended. Monofilament will stretch so much you will hardly be able to tell when the rig hits bottom, much less if a fish is hooked  


You want stinky baits that will hold up to repeated bites. Squid, bonito, skipjack, or barracuda make excellent baits. 


  • Heavy jigs with bait strips work very well for those who want a bit more challenge. 
  • Rig your jigs with a single 10/0 to 12/0 hook at the top and a treble hook at the bottom.
  • Add squid to the tines of the treble and a more robust bait like a chunk of bonito or barracuda to the top hook. 

Deep drop rig: 

(to learn more about deep drop rigs, visit In The Spread) 

  • A typical deep drop rig with 2-3 droppers are all you need. 
  • Start with a 250 lb ball bearing swivel from the mainline attached to a 200-pound-test snap swivel. Add your rig to the snap swivel. 
  • The snap swivel allows for quick changes, saving the trouble of re-rigging should one part become damaged and need replacing 
  • The actual terminal rig consists of 2-3 droppers with 7/0 circle hooks 
  • Rigs for golden tilefish will be made from 130 lb mono, and blueline tilefish rigs will be made with 80 to 100 lb monofilament. 
  • Add your weight to the end of the rig.

 Special thanks to  In The Spread for this article 

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